Will the BBL hijack the summer of cricket?

Date: November 18, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

bbl1So far this summer Test crowds in Australia have been poor.

Just 12,000 turned out for the opening day of the first Test at the WACA Ground, while the match attendance over the five days was under 50,000. Day one at Hobart saw just over 7,000 in attendance. The third day was bolstered by the standard practice of bussing in hundreds of school kids to Bellerive Oval.

With an Ashes series slated for next summer it was Hobartians last chance for two years to see their national team in the flesh.

As we know, both Tests ended in landslide losses with the Hobart match producing one of Australia’s most humiliating defeats on home soil.

Thankfully, for Cricket Australia, the final Test of the South Africa series will be played under lights at Adelaide Oval. That should provide a healthy turn-out. But beyond that it will be interesting to see how the remainder of the summer pans out.

Currently the Australian Test team is on the nose.

Following the 3-nil loss in Sri Lanka it was expected the side would be a different unit back on home soil.

Things certainly started well. Day one at the WACA produced an exemplary display – penetrative and decisive bowling; brilliant fielding; and swashbuckling batting. By day’s end it was a return to normal transmission.

Sadly, the picture soon went fuzzy as the team descended to a modern-day nadir.

Five consecutive Test losses have been incurred around a 5-nil one-day series loss in South Africa. Very quickly the public has shown its discontent. Social media is awash with recriminations.

The resignation of Rod Marsh yesterday as chairman of selectors was met mostly with glee. Come Sunday he will not be the only one on the outer as players will also be jettisoned ahead of the third Test.

In its long and storied history, an Australian Test team has never suffered a clean sweep on home soil. The threat looms large heading to Adelaide. In fact, many would view it as a formality. And if it does come to pass there will be a further disconnect by the cricketing public.

As results have gotten worse the patience of the fans has been sorely tested and a 3-nil loss will see a gnashing of teeth that will dental waiting rooms.

Once Adelaide is done and dusted there will be a Test hiatus until 15 December when a three-match series kicks off against Pakistan, currently the second ranked team in the world.

Before the Pakistan series gets underway there will be a three-game ODI series against New Zealand between 4-9 December. Traditionally, Chappell-Hadlee ODI series have not been big ticket items

However, a day after the first Test against Pakistan at the Gabba concludes BBL6 blasts into action and that will get bums on seats. And, should Australia’s next two Tests go poorly the fan focus on the BBL will further escalate.

With its glitz and glamour, the T20 game has captured the hearts and minds of many.

If the national team continues to plumb the depths it currently is those that consider themselves catholic cricket fans may drift more toward the sport’s most abbreviated form with T20 becoming their principal place of worship.

The BBL is far more reasonably priced and it is over in half the time taken for a day’s Test cricket.

Plus, importantly, given its very nature there is not the deep emotional connection to your team as exists with Test cricket. And, if you are paying big money simply to watch your beloved team capitulate, the temptation to go elsewhere is magnified.

Test cricket is still reasonably buoyant in this country when it comes to crowds, especially in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. In recent times, Australia has been at the vanguard when it comes to spectator attendance. It needs to remain so for the health of the longer form of the game.

Crowds in the West Indies are largely non-existent. Often, Sri Lanka is not much better.

While some cities in India attract healthy crowds there are many – such as Nagpur, Mohali and Delhi – that struggle to half-fill their stadia.

New Zealand has had a steady decline; Pakistan plays its ‘home’ Tests in empty stadia in the UAE; and South Africa on Boxing Day has struggled to fill the 25,000-seat Kingsmead ground in Durban and will this year play at the 19,000-seat St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.

Along with Australia and India, England remains the only country to have a healthy spectator base.

Australia would be kidding itself if it believed that trend will always continue unhindered. In recent times, fans of the national side have become disillusioned by the decisions of the administrators – the rotation policy of resting players; eyebrow raising selections; and an increasingly muddled schedule.

Early next year Australia will field two international XIs in two days when a T20 versus Sri Lanka at Adelaide will be followed a day later by a Test against India at Mumbai. On top of all that is a currently dysfunctional national team.

Last season, 80,000 turned out at the MCG to watch the BBL Melbourne derby.

Simon Katich, a deep thinker on the game, said on ABC Grandstand during the Hobart Test the Big Bash was “hijacking the summer”.

This season it may take it captive if the national team cannot win back the public by dint of on-field success.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 17 November 2016, soliciting 25 comments

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